Aquino kin seek interest for Luisita

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CITY OF SAN FERNANDO—The Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI) will go to court to determine the rate of interest payments on lands covered by agrarian reform in the 6,433-hectare sugar estate owned by the family of President Aquino in Tarlac, a company official said.

“Questioning the interest rates is the logical thing to do. That is normal for any agrarian issue,” lawyer Antonio Ligon, HLI spokesperson, told the Inquirer by telephone on Tuesday.

This came after the Inquirer sought Ligon’s comments to confirm a report by the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) would pay the Cojuangco family at least P1.2 billion as compensation and interest for the 4,099 ha to be distributed to 6,202 farm workers as ordered by the Supreme Court last year.

Ligon described the 1989 valuation for the land as “very low.”

He said HLI needed to collect interest because the resolution of the Supreme Court in April 2012 showed that the land valuation was set at 1989 levels.

“When you pay the lands at the 1989 rate of P6 per square meter, we (HLI) put the cash or bonds in the bank and it would earn us 6 percent in real interest. That’s what the law and other jurisprudence say,” he said.

“But we were not paid in 1989…. So we should be paid interest, the rate of which we have not yet computed,” he said.

He said the high court was silent on the interest payments. A case involving interest payments, he said, would not affect the distribution of lands.

“We want the farm workers to be empowered. We’re

encouraging them to do block farming so they can maximize their plots,” Ligon said.

The DAR said each qualified beneficiary will get 6,600 sq.m., which is worth between P60,000 and P70,000 and payable in 30 years.

The beneficiaries will pay a minimum amortization of P600 to P700 a year to a maximum P2,500 a year, depending on the productivity of their lands.

The DAR has been allocating parcels of land in 10 villages in the hacienda, aiming to distribute titles by September.

Reached by phone, Florida Sibayan, Ambala acting chair, said Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes had reportedly told a budget hearing in Congress on Aug. 8 that P1.2 billion would be paid to the Cojuangco family. The amount is broken down to P304 million as payment for the land at 1989 value and interest up to 2013.

But De los Reyes denied saying this. “I said that per 1989 valuation, the amount of compensation would run around P304 million,” he told the Inquirer. “Whether to pay interest or not is not settled,” he added.

In a separate statement, Sibayan called as “scam” the payment of P1.2 billion to the Cojuancgo family, saying the amount would eat up 28 percent of the DAR’s P5-billion budget for landowners compensation next year.

The DAR placed Hacienda Luisita under agrarian reform in 1989 but allowed the Cojuangco family and farm workers to form the HLI and receive shares of stock instead of lands.

The Supreme Court voided the stock distribution program in 2012. It ordered HLI to give away 4,915 ha of sugar lands and DAR to pay the 240-square meter home lots given to farm workers.

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